Operations on the CPR’s Kootenay Division

I thought you guys might be interested in the operations of the line I’m representing. I’m modeling 4 distinct eras, 1953, ca.1973 (with a 1960 timetable), and 80…something. Say 85. Service on the prototype dwindled starting in the late 1940s due to major road improvements across the province of B.C. It was a constant downslide until 1995, when the Slocan subdivision was abandoned, and things settled into a regular pattern. (Scroll to the bottom for nifty photo if you don’t care about the specifics of operations)

It’s hard to find information on 1953, but I chose that year in particular because even though H24-66s and H16-44s hadn’t been delivered yet, nor anything but a handful of GP7s, RS3s, and S-series switchers, that was the year that dieselization swept across the province. The double-headed steam that was on practically every train was incredibly inefficient, and C-liners saved millions of dollars in operating expenses and eliminated pushers over Farron and Eholt summits.  I can’t say exactly what trains ran, but it’s definitely shelved until N scale steam comes out with CPR prototypes!

ca.1974: This allows me to have action red, a mixture of all the units I like from the earliest first generation diesels through SD40-2s. By this time, operations had slumped significantly, so I’m using the 1960 timetable. This also allows me to have through freights for the Carmi subdivision to the Okanagan, trains that were all but discontinued by the late 60s, and the line itself abandoned in 1971, severing the southern mainline.

1980s: Still have traffic all the way to Midway, but this is easy for a smaller group of operators. GP38-2s start to dominate the scene, and there’s only 1 train on the Boundary subdivision, a turn to Midway.

If you don’t know about timetable and train order operation, here’s the gist: One direction of travel is the superior direction, and the other the inferior. Operators are stationed throughout the line are telegraphed information by the dispatcher on where trains will meet, and they hand these orders to the train crews. Whoever gets to the siding designated for the meet waits for the other train. The superior direction takes the mainline, and the inferior direction takes the siding, regardless of who arrives first. On the Kootenay division, the majority of inferior direction trains operated as extras, referred to by their locomotive number instead of a train number.

The trains:

Nelson Subdivision (Cranbrook to Nelson)

The Nelson subdivision had the least change through the 1950s and 60s. The junction with the old Spokane International at Yahk is a connection to the Union Pacific, and now hosts several trains a day, whereas at this time there was only one scheduled freight each way through the border at Kingsgate. These trains will not be modeled, as Creston is the easternmost point on my line before staging.

Previously the passenger trains were known as No.67, the Kootenay Valley Express, and No.68, the Kettle Valley Express, but had at this time been renumbered to 45 and 46 as well as de-named. These trains operated with a conventional consist of tuscan red passenger cars, a mix of heavyweights and lightweights into the diesel era, being powered by 2-3 C-liners with steam generators. This is a beautiful consist, and one I intend to operate unprototypically as long as I damn well feel like it! As mentioned earlier, highways were built in the 1950s and quickly became more convenient than the daily passenger service. Losing money, by the mid-1950s the CPR replaced the conventional trains with 1 and 2-unit sets of Budd RDC cars (Dayliners). These operated into the mid-1960s, still losing money, until the CPR used the Doukhobors (Russian immigrants best known for stirring up trouble and bombing stuff) as an excuse for discontinuing the service.

For freights, Nelson was the hub that all Kootenay trains went to. Only one train didn’t stop in the Nelson yard to be classified, and that was train No.984. (Later 563/564 until a couple years ago) No.984 was the Trail Hotshot, carrying ore and other stuffs to the smelter at Trail and refined metals and valuables back east. The rest of the trains carried everything else for all the different lines in the Kootenays, including the through freights to the Okanagan, the Slocan, Boundary [to Midway], and Rossland [to Trail/Rossland] subdivisions. Additionally, there was a turn from Nelson to Yahk, and later Nelson to Creston, that took care of the local traffic. This included working the barge at Procter, the lumber spurs along Kootenay Lake, and the sawmill and brewery at Creston. The trains were scaled back in the 70s and 80s to their present numbers, which I’ll get into in the next section.

Boundary Subidivion

The Boundary subdivision had major changes sooner rather than later, as highway 3 took away much of the hot traffic like Okanagan fruit.

Here’s the 1960 timetable.

The first thing you may notice is that unlike on the Nelson sub., the Boundary sub.’s superior direction is westbound. This means any eastbounds out of Midway or Grand Forks would be extras. I won’t lie, I don’t entirely understand this timetable! Anyways, the main work here were the trains to Trail, Castlegar, the Slocan, and Midway. The Kraft Switcher, train 87, originated in Nelson and worked the lumber spurs between Nelson and Castlegar before working the Celgar pulp mill and returning to Nelson. This is the most industrial job on my model, and the most complex – also the first one that will see actual operation. There are also trains to Trail and over Farron Summit to Grand Forks and Midway, although in this era I’m not entirely sure what’s going on! These trains rated 4 units most of the time, and were usually very heavy coming east with woodchips and lumber. The Rossland Subdivision shows 3 southbounds continuing from the junction at Castlegar. Coming back there was the hotshot, and possibly more extra freights. This will require more research. At this point, passenger service was Dayliners twice weekly, and not meeting. The hotshot had 4-5 units to tackle the short but steep 3% grade at Poupore. The Kraft switcher usually had 2 4-axle locomotives, frequently a pair of H16-44s.

The Slocan subdivision had a turn that worked various days of the week, sometimes turning at Slocan City, and sometimes going on the barge up the lake to Rosebery and Nakusp. This had one unit, an S-3 or similar in the early 50s, and usually an H16-44 in the late 50s and 60s. Some units were assigned specifically to this job and had modified pilots to avoid grounding themselves on the roller coaster like profile of the barge slips. Sadly, this will not be modeled in this incarnation. Hopefully the next will have enough room!

This timetable is from 1965, and is depressing.

As you can see, only one scheduled freight goes over the Boundary sub by this time, and passenger service has been discontinued west of Nelson. The smelter at Trail is still working as hard as ever, and the kraft switcher exists in full capacity, but the line over the summit is already fading. West of Midway, there’s only one short freight on the Carmi sub. Slocan service has gone down slightly, but not significantly, as highway 6, the Slocan highway, has not been widened enough for trucks, and is 1 lane wide at the bluffs near Slocan City.

In the 1970s, Trail lost its station operator, and there were no longer any scheduled trains on the Rossland sub. All trains were billed as work extras, which allowed them to turn at the Trail wye and come back to Castlegar without receiving further clearance.

By the 1980s, there was a huge reduction in service. There was a Boundary sub. train to Midway, the Kraft switcher, the Trail hotshot, and the Slocan wayfreight. This leaves enough work for 2-3 operators west of Nelson, as well as 1-2 east of it for a total of 4 during a small operating session.

Operations today

Today, the Slocan subdivision has been completely abandoned. The widening of highway 6 in 1988 allowed CP to abandon the barge service, and though the sawmill at Slocan City kept the low-grade Slocan sub alive for several years, it was abandoned in 1995. The Boundary subidivision was abandoned west of Westley in 1991, just west of the pulp mill. Because of the lack of switching on the line, there are only 3 trains, the hotshot, Kraft Switcher, and Trail/Warfield switcher.

The Kootenay Valley Railway operates as a separate business unit inside CP, and encompasses the lines west of Yahk. Crews don’t stray outside of this territory. Crews change trains at McConnel (Kitchener), halfway between Creston and Yahk. The hotshot comes from Cranbrook, gets a KVR crew at McConnel around midnight, and runs in the dark to Nelson. This is the only train on the Nelson sub. now. After a crew change at Nelson, it goes straight to Castlegar, and drops off loads for the pulp mill. Because of the abandonment of the Slocan sub. and the loss of lumber spurs, there is no longer a need for the kraft switcher to serve as a wayfreight, so it grabs the cars out of Castlegar and trundles the 4 miles to the pulp mill. The hotshot goes to trail, does its work there, comes back to Castlegar, picks up the cars from the pulp mill that the Kraft switcher left in the yard at Castlegar, and heads east to Nelson. After changing crews again at Nelson, it departs around 1700-1800 and heads east to McConnel to repeat the cycle, some nights switching the brewery at Creston. This train usually has 3 SDs on it, most frequently SD40-2s. The Kraft switcher has used a single GP38-2 since the 1980s, and now only works the pulp mill and brings the cars to Castlegar. The Warfield switcher heads up a torturous 4.5% grade which has had several fatal runaways on it it, from Trail yard to the fertilizer plant up the hill at Warfield. The actual line to Rossland from Warfield was 4.8%, and abandoned in 1955. The current job has 2 GP38-2s assigned to it, and sounds great heading upgrade.

So here’s a shot of the eastbound hotshot at Castlegar in 1984, shot from the bridge at Castlegar.


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